(WUSA)-- Doctors, coaches, athletic trainers and parents have started paying closer attention to the sometimes lasting brain injuries sustained from concussions. Kristen Stephenson worries about her 12 year old son, who loves playing the game.
She says, "He gets up two hours before practice and has his uniform on. He can't walk when he gets off the field because they have worked him so hard. But he is smiling."
Gaylor Minett's experience has been far different over the years. After suffering repeated concussions on the football field, he knew he finally had to give it up. "My memory is still kind of off, and I slur words, " says Minett.
Because of growing concerns that some of the damage from repeated concussions doesn't go away, one leading Boston researcher has proposed very tough guidelines for restrictions on the youngest athletes.
Dr. Robert Cantu is a neurosurgeon with the Boston University School of Medicine and has studied neuro-degenerative brain disorders in athletes who have suffered repeated head injuries.
Dr. Cantu says, "We believe that kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they currently are played. We believe they should not be playing tackle football."
And Dr. Robert Cantu wants other sports to change as well. He recommends no full-body checking under age 14 in ice hockey. And for younger soccer players, no 'heading' the ball.
He explains, " The young child is particularly vulnerable to brain injury."
At the professional level, greater recognition of the long-term consequences of repeated concussions has led the NFL to take action with new rules that dictate when players can get back on the field.
The NFL Players Association, worried about the safety of its athletes, has formed a Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, of which Dr. Jim Ecklund, Neuroscience Chair at Inova Fairfax Hospital, is a part.
Dr. Ecklund says the goals of the committee are medical and educational. "Protect the players as the game's gotten faster and more aggressive and the athletes have gotten more powerful. We need to have them tackling correctly and not leading with the head but tackling correctly and doing smart drills."
Dr. Ecklund thinks banning tackle football at the youth or Pop Warner level is too extreme. But he says one thing HAS to happen at all levels of the game: athletes who suffer a concussion need to stay OFF the field until they are symptom-free for a week; if the player loses consciousness in the hit, he recommends two weeks of rest. Otherwise, he says there is a greater danger of something called "second impact syndrome."
Dr. Ecklund cautions, " Especially a child, who hasn't totally recovered from the first concussion, can have a relatively small second concussion and develop severe brain swelling that can be life-threatening."
That's something Gaylor Minnett didn't want to risk, after one particularly violent play.
Minnett says, "I just remember hitting him head-on, and I'm walking away from the hit and all I see is white, and I'm like 'Oh my God,' where am I right now?"
Signs of a concussion include dizziness, confusion, temporary memory loss headaches, and nausea.
To learn more about Inova Fairfax Hospital's treatment program, click HERE.